Many sport actions contain either large or subtle rotational components. Envision a hammer, discus, shot put, or javelin thrower launching their implement into the air; a baseball, softball, tennis, racquetball, hockey, handball, or cricket athlete swinging their instrument; a pitcher or quarterback throwing overhead, a boxer, kick boxer, or MMA athlete throwing a hook, jab, cross, uppercut, or kick; a judo athlete, wrestler, or MMA athlete attempting to trip and take down an opponent; or a football or basketball player attempting a spin-move. These are all examples of rotary actions in sport, and rotary strength and power deals with eccentric, isometric, and concentric contractions.
The Four Categories of Rotational Exercises
In the weight room, many coaches employ rotary exercises in order to enhance rotary power. Several different implements can be used to develop rotary power, such as medicine balls, tornado balls, cable columns, resistance bands, barbells, and my favorite – the Cook bar. Resistance exercises in the weight room that build rotary power generally fall into four categories:
1. General Strength Exercises - no core muscle has a pure rotary vector, so the task of rotation and anti-rotation is divvied out between all the different core muscles. For this reason squats and deadlifts will increase rotary power despite the fact that they don’t contain rotational components simply because they will increase cross-sectional area as well as active and and passive stiffness in the muscles involved in rotation – for example the obliques, erector spinae, and gluteus maximus. These typically involve isometric core contractions and are usually axial-loaded.
2. Pure Isometric Rotary Exercises - these are often coined “anti-rotation” exercises or “rotary stability” exercises and include movements such as the band or cable rotary hold or foam roller rotary hold. These involve isometric core contractions and isometric limb contractions (nothing moves) and contain rotary (also called torsional) force vectors.
3. Dynamic Limb/Core Isometric Rotary Exercises - these are also called “anti-rotation” and “rotary stability” exercises and are slightly more complicated than pure rotary isometric exercises since the core must remain stable while the limbs move. These exercises include landmines, Pallof presses, cable chops and lifts, push-pulls, and even many unilateral exercises such as single arm dumbbell bench press, one arm dumbbell rows, Bulgarian split squats, and single leg bottoms up hip thrusts. These exercises also require isometric core contractions with concentric and eccentric limb movements, and the directional force vectors can vary. In the case of the Pallof press, the vector is a combination of mediolateral and torsional. In the case of the one arm dumbbell bench press or row and the single leg hip thrust, the vector is a combination of anteroposterior and torsional. In the case of the Bulgarian split squat, the lead vector is axial and torsional, but if you place a single dumbbell in one hand, you now introduce a mediolateral component. In the case of the landmine, the vector is a combination of axial, mediolateral, and torsional. As you can see, analyzing directional force vectors in rotational exercises can be quite complicated.
4. Rotary Movement Exercises – exercises in this category involve some slight spinal rotation and include cable woodchops, band or cable hip rotations, Russian twists, windshield wipers, and even exercises such as variations of landmines, and cable chops and lifts with some extra body English (spinal movement). These exercises involve all three muscle actions as they contain an eccentric, isometric, and concentric component. They are more risky but if you understand spinal biomechanics and program design you can safely prescribe these movements to your athletes.
What’s the Best Rotational Movement in Existence?
Obviously every coach has his or her own opinion on this topic, but my personal favorite is the half-kneeling anti-rotation press. It takes a while to develop sufficient coordination on this movement but once you do, I can promise you that your rear glute and entire core region will be burning, and you’ll feel like a Spartan warrior while you perform this incredibly powerful movement. Here I am using a Cook bar to perform the movement, but a rope attachment can be used efficiently as well.